1218 Wisconsin Ave. NW 333-3700 Hours: Lunch and dinner, 11:30 a.m. to midnight seven days a week (bar open longer). Sunday brunch, 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Prices: Appetizers $2.25 to $3.50; lunch salads, sandwiches and entrees $3.25 to $14.95; dinner salads, sandwiches and entrees $4.25 to $14.95. Cards: American Express, Choice, Diners Club, MasterCard, Visa.

Tradition is but 20 years old at the Third Edition, one of Washington's original fern bars. Not only is this combination watering hole-restaurant proof that the prep set is alive and well, it reminds us that these days, even pub grub has got to be good.

The Third Edition has a charming, well-worn look that best suits the downstairs dining room, which is half bar, half reserved for dining, in cozy, dark wood booths and tightly packed tables.

"The Third," as it's called by habitues, has more than comfort to recommend it, its location -- near Wisconsin Avenue and M Street -- for one. Prices are reasonable for Georgetown, which might also explain the sizable collegiate crowd on weekends. Then, too, there's the reliable fare that occasionally surprises us with its flights of fancy.

The standing menu differs little from that of any generic fern bar, listing such achingly familiar appetizers as potato skins, mozzarella sticks and onion rings, none of which rise above the norm. (The Italian toast -- french bread topped with layers of basil, cheese and sausage -- was the most inventive of the starters, but it could have used more time under the broiler.) Sandwiches are no more unusual than hamburgers (albeit big and juicy ones), clubs and reubens. And the best of the main dishes I sampled were along the order of the sherry-redolent London broil. Forget the ribs, which aren't worth the mess involved in their eating, and the pasty-sauced, overpriced baked shrimp stuffed with crab.

Concentrate on the specials. There is usually a whole page of selections in small type. It is here that the kitchen's range and skill are best demonstrated.

You're in luck with fish and seafood, whether it's an appetizer of briny grilled oysters served with a tangy dip, or a simple plate of utterly crisp, golden fried catfish, moist and generous. The grilled swordfish offered as a special recently was satisfying despite its "cajun" spicing that was merely hot and smacked more of commercial-grade seasoning salts than the genuine heat of New Orleans cooking.

Beef fanciers might be encouraged to sample that London broil, or better, the thick filet mignon slathered with dijon mustard and cracked black pepper. If parsley doesn't constitute a side dish in your book, be sure to ask if anything comes with your meal. Since I first visited the restaurant several months ago, the complimentary French bread has disappeared, as have the vegetable accompaniments from most entrees. Another letdown is dessert, including the standing menu's grainy, too-sweet caramel ice cream pie, and a dreadful, gummy "homemade" butterscotch pie.

"The Third" could use a few nips and tucks, especially in the standing menu. Mostly, however, this restaurant wears middle age pretty well.Tom Sietsema is on the staff of The Washington Post Food section.